Mental ill-health is one of the biggest public health challenges facing society and a critical business issue. Stress in on the increase. One in six employees will be suffering from a common mental health issue, like anxiety, stress or depression at any one time in the workplace, with 1 in 4 of the wider population suffering from mental illness at some point in their lives.
According to the Centre for Mental Health, the aggregate numbers of working days lost among employed people with mental health problems rose from 70 million days in 2006 to 72 million in 2016/17. The Thriving at Work review reports that this sickness absence costs £8 billion each year, plus another £17-26 billion in presenteeism. A further £8 billion is spent replacing staff who leave work because of mental ill-health.
At Pearson, we have been working to achieve parity of esteem between physical and mental health for our employees for a number of years, and smash the stigma surrounding mental health. Since 2015, we have trained 80 Mental Health First Aiders across our UK organisation, with more to come. We have worked with our Investors in People Champions to create a small committee of volunteers, who have set up the Pearson Well UK Group: an initiative that champions both physical and mental health of employees and was nominated for the Innovation in Flexible Working Award in 2019.
In early 2016, we ran an anonymous survey amongst employees and managers to gauge their attitudes towards mental wellbeing, and their knowledge of existing practices around our business to support staff. The results were startling, with only 20% of respondents being aware of any support offered by Pearson on wellbeing and mental health, and only 16% of management respondents saying they felt confident in how to support people they line-manage that experience mental ill-health.
This provided us with our foundation on which to build an action plan. By working with Time to Change, a small team of enthusiastic volunteers with support of senior leaders, built a comprehensive plan and signed the Time to Change Employer Pledge in July 2016.
Through the plan, we focused on three main areas:
- To raise awareness of support the company already offered.
- To secure funding to train the first group of Mental Health First Aiders.
- To provide specific training for line managers in recognising the signs of mental illness, and giving them ideas and tools on how to address them and support their staff.
We then re-ran our staff survey the following year to check progress and calculate our return on investment. The results again were startling:
- We saw a 369% increase in people feeling that our culture is one in which people are encouraged to talk openly about their mental health.
- Awareness of support that Pearson offers for staff in this area (Employee Assistance Programme, Occupational Health, MHFAs, Mindfulness, etc.) increased by 230%.
- We saw a 181% rise in positive opinion about how Pearson supports employees with poor mental health.
- We saw a 94% increase in confidence amongst managers in supporting people they line manage with their mental wellbeing at work, and 163% increase in guidance for managers on the support available for staff.
We still have a lot to do and the work in this area continues, but we’re proud of what we’ve achieved since 2015. We’re ‘walking the walk’ and our regular awareness days, events, newsletters, blogs and vlogs have all helped to change our culture in this area and bring our Pearson values of Bravery, Decency and Imagination to life. We are now extending this work to our customers and partners through our #HealthyHappySchools Campaign.
The importance of a small group of enthusiastic and committed Champions, backed by senior leaders and HR has been crucial in getting to where we are today, and we couldn’t have done it without them. Time to Change have also been brilliant to work with and offer free support to any organisation wishing to sign the Employer Pledge and make the commitment to changing the way we all think and act about mental health in the workplace.
About the author
Lisa James is a founding member of the Pearson Well UK Group, championing staff physical and mental health across Pearson UK. She is a certified Mental Health First Aider and a Regional Sales Manager on our UK Schools 5-19 Team.